The third installment of this flourishing series differs fundamentally from its predecessors, James Holden and M.A.N.D.Y. Whilst comparisons rarely prove helpful in determining an album's merit, Claude Vonstroke's effort oozes his unique touch and feel for mixing minimal house, but lacks the consistency of the first two AtC spanned over two discs. He selects some thick and satisfying tracks, several of which were released an unusual number of years ago to be included in such a package; it is gratifying, however, that due to superfluous mixing talent these "dated" tracks sound as much akin to the rest of the track flow as did M.A.N.D.Y.'s release. The problem? Lack of balance and artistic energy between the two discs.
Disc one is full of massive minimal energy (paradoxical? Not in the hands of Vonstroke!). Blowing away the very concept of a build-up, Meat vs. Einzelkind's `Freebase Night @ Robert-Johnson' blows up party balloons of heavy, driving bass with a ridiculous amount of energy for an opener. And in many ways, this very track sets the tone for the rest of the disc. Any DJ will relate the difficulties of composing a minimal-house mix suitable for a dance floor - but for once, this is minimal you can * really * bounce to. Dominating `Mush' > `Kookaburra' > `Don't Feed The Cat,' Vonstroke toys with frenetic scratches, unpredictable pitch anomalies and jungle noises that might belong more in a "Monkeys Gone Wild" video. This blatant eclecticism, however, is truly instrumental to the first mix's charm. Hammerschmidt & Julian Lentz (never known to disappoint) champion `Knospen Im Oslen,' which has to be one of the best tracks on the album; after the first wave of frenzy it's time to relax, light a cigarette and float with comfortably paced, piano-laden tunes that extend into `The Fly (MyMy Remix),' which Nicolas Hoppner does a fantastic job of re-tooling from the original. It fits like a puzzle piece. Almost as suddenly, it's time to stub out that cigarette, because the mix regains its momentum with `Smokemachine' and `Heater' which truly propel the remainder of disc one to a fantastic closure. Vonstroke's choice of producers and remixers on the first disc is great, from Catz'N'Dogz to Samim to Deep Dish's fantastic remix of Whatever, Girl's `Activator (You Need Some),' resonating with the disc's opening track and giving the impression of a minimalistic full-circle. Disc one is such a unique and intriguing mix because it becomes more pleasurable with each subsequent listen; it quite deserves four of five stars. Rock-solid stuff from Vonstroke, a true pleaser for the fans of not only Claude, but of the series as well.
As for disc two, I have far less to say - perhaps because there is far less to comment on. The second mix is less consistent, although perhaps equally as interesting, as the first. In fact, the second mix does a keen job of illustrating why Claude Vonstroke was a surprising choice to me as a contributor to the At The Controls series. The mix isn't bad; downtempo minimal-house with atmospheric spaciousness like that of certain sections in Gui Boratto's "Addicted Vol. 2" resonate and strike a chord with a sleepier twilight timbre. Something suitable for an aural brain massage on the ride home from the club at 6 A.M. In this regard, Vonstroke's fusion of darker soundscapes is delightful to the senses, providing one is looking for relaxation, in turn losing the rhythm and feeling of the first disc. Relative to disc one, the second fails to ignite the same EDM passion and as a result ends up more of a disappointment rather than a logical successor. The tone isn't all blue: though Catz'N'Dogz have two tracks represented in this double-disc mix the second selection, `A Chicken Affair,' hardly compares to the first - Italoboyz, on the other hand, appear twice on the second disc alone with very fortunate and well-produced tracks. Kenneth Graham's `Measures Of Goodwill,' Lee Curtis' `Pink Panty,' Italoboyz' `Hannibal,' and the sequence from `Break In At Apartment 305' > `Groundhog Day' > `Viktor Cassanova' collectively redeem the second mix from being a flop - and, interestingly, Gui Boratto's `Chromophobia' seems mismatched within the context of more cerebral and tasteful productions. It's a decent mix, yet it cannot help but taint the overall impression I have gotten from many, many listens to both discs in succession. Because of its beautiful orchestration, I would rate this mix more highly. But due to the lack of congruity between it and the first mix - not to mention the internal incongruity between several of the tracks - Claude's second disc suffers and deserves a high-end three stars of five.
This album is certainly worth picking up for the non-import price, but it is quite unlike the previous releases because Vonstroke seems to encounter an abrupt change-of-heart in that interval between discs - and it obviously shows. Fans of Vonstroke's other works will without question adore the first disc (which may be worth ~ $20 alone) but may find themselves taken off-guard by the second mix's lackluster enthusiasm. Well-orchestrated, but poorly collaborated. At any rate, given a chance, the album grows and blossoms into much more than it initially appears to be.
To Vonstroke's ultimate credit, At The Controls Vol. 3 is a meaty mixture of methodic minimalism; in a sense, one package finds both bum-rush energy and twilight-zone narcolepsy. The discs simply should have been released separately, and at a lower price.